Greater Autonomy: To Whom and for Whom

Greater Autonomy: To Whom and for Whom

by M. L. Nakhasi

M.L. Nakhasi, working at present as Joint Chief, in the Institute of Applied Manpower Research, Planning Commission, New Delhi, is the Editor of the Manpower Journal-an Academic Journal which provides a- means of information about manpower research, specially research into problems of Employment, Unemployment and Manpower Planning and Development - Editor.

In the context of granting greater autonomy to Kashmir and subsequent announcement of elections in the Valley by the government, the statement of the Chief Election Commissioner that in Kashmir there is hardly any political group or party, barring the Congress, prepared to stand for the election warrants to be examined. The National Conference, which had earlier been persuaded to enter the arena, chose to hedge by setting preconditions for its participation. The other smaller parties, which have even less to expect from an election, are more vehement in their opposition to an early poll. With such reluctant players in the field, it would be too much to expect them to meet the barrage of propaganda from Kashmir Hurriyat leaders and threats of gunfire from their militant outfits.

Over a terrifying six years since 1989, the valley continues to simmer with bloody incidents, and Kashmir as such poses many fundamental problems for our polity and the constitution on which it is based. Apart from the most basic of all, whether Muslims of the Valley (Kashmir has at present 100% Muslim population) are, or are prepared to be, Indian and loyal citizens of the Republic, there is the question of the character of India. Is it a union of states or is it a federation of nationalities? The question is being raised in the context of moving out of what is seen to be the impasse resulting from the six years of insurgency in the valley. There are many political leaders, and commentators alike, who are of the view that among the most important components of such an advance is granting greater autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir. The grant of such greater autonomy is prescribed by some of these groups as a general remedy for the difficulties being experienced in the functioning of our political system. In fact, however, the injection of greater autonomy in relations between the centre and the state will only compound these difficulties. It is no solution for the so-called Kashmir problem.

Who is demanding greater autonomy for Kashmir in Kashmir? Nobody except the few politicians who have little influence. Greater autonomy within the Indian Union is demanded hardly by anybody in Jammu or in Ladakh. Indeed some leaders in these two regions argue that Jammu and Ladakh would even be states of Union of India cutting themselves off from the valley. Their complaint is that right from 1947 onwards funds received from the centre for over all economic development of the state i.e. Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, have been diverted to Kashmir only. There has not been much development so far in Ladakh and Jammu as compared to Kashmir. Further what is often ignored is their assessment that the Valley is not representative of the entire state. The two regions i.e. Ladakh and Jammu have been left high and dry.

So, while deciding about the quantum of autonomy one should see that from the cultural and ethnic point of view, the state means also Jammu and Ladakh whose regional identities are as distinct as that of the valley. Besides, Kashmiri Pandits also form another unit in the valley. Any analysis of Kashmir situation has to keep this aspect of diversity in mind. Unfortunately we have been viewing Kashmir as just a muslim majority area and following an appeasement policy towards them, forgetting that the Kashmiri Pandits, Dogras, Buddists, Shias, and Ladakhis are as much part of that society as the Sunni Muslims. Therefore the demand for greater autonomy/self determination by ignoring these communities is ridiculous and naive. The brute majority and gun-culture ruling the valley at present is creating a psycho fear in an attempt to suppress the other sections of the society.

Also there is a demand for regional autonomy within the state. If it is accepted, the article 370 has first to be abrogated so that the state can be at par with other states in the federal setup that India has evolved. A special status is incompatible with a package deal for autonomy. Also the quantum of autonomy for Jammu and Ladakh will have to be compatible with the autonomy that will be given to the Valley. In the Valley itself, there are militants who are divided between those who want to join Pakistan and those who want it to become independent. Both do so on the basis of denying the Indian identity of Kashmir and by insisting on its so-called Islamic character. The claim of both is that Kashmiris of the Valley cannot be themselves without being separated entirely from Hindu India. Their claim is based on theocracy and communalism. How would greater autonomy either satisfy them or be an answer to them? They do not accept that there is any such thing as Kashmiriat which links the valley to India because this is an essentially secular and composite phenomenon where people of different faiths co-exist.

While this tug of war is going on with the united efforts of the protagonists of Kashmir's merger with Pakistan as well as advocates of an independent Kashmir, Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley have been either driven out or liquidated. As such, Kashmir Valley is now almost completely Muslim and the Pandits are running from pillar to post to survive. The question of their future has added another dimension to the Kashmir problem for in any type of autonomy the state must first find a home for them. The future of Kashmiri Pandits is tied with the future of Kashmir Valley. If Kashmir is to remain a part of India-the Pandits have to go back to the Kashmir Valley not only for their own sake but also in the wider interest of India as a whole. But it will be no longer possible for them to live with Kashmiri Muslims in the same mohallas and neighbourhoods. Islamic fundamentalism, which have swept the valley exercises a complete grip over the minds of the new generation of Kashmiri Muslims. The Pandits will therefore have to live in a separate settlement in the valley. Sheikh Abdullah writes in his autobiography that some of the community leaders had suggested as early as 1890 that the Kulgam area in south of Kashmir adjacent to Jammu region should be made a separate district for the Pandits of Kashmir. He does not give the reason why such a demand was made and what was the exact motivation of those who made it. But the situation that has developed now in Kashmir proves that the forebodings of those who raised the demand a century ago were correct. A sanctuary or separate district for the resettlement of Kashmiri Pandits in the southern part of Kashmir Valley has now become an imperative necessity. It is the only effective way of preserving the community in its own homeland.

While deciding the quantum of autonomy to the valley some provision has to be made by the centre to give KPs some voice in the political life of their homeland. Some seats will have to be reserved for them and provision has to be made for nomination of some Kashmiri Pandit representative in the Legislative Assembly of the reorganized Kashmir state covering the Valley so that they have some say also in the development process of the state.

Source: Koshur Samachar

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